"It happened."
They walked back toward the bus stop. The night stops were far between,
they'd probably have to wait an hour. They stood at the bus stop and checked
each other for blood and, strangely, they didn't find any. So they rolled
and lit two cigarettes.
Then Bill suddenly spit his out.
"God damn it. Oh, god damn it all!"
"What's the matter, Bill?"
"We forgot to get his wallet!"
"Oh fuck," said Harry.

    A MAN

George was lying in his trailer, flat on his back, watching a small
portable T.V. His dinner dishes were undone, his breakfast dishes were
undone, he needed a shave, and ash from his rolled cigarettes dropped onto
his undershirt. Some of the ash was still burning. Sometimes the burning ash
missed the undershirt and hit his skin, then he cursed, brushing it away.
There was a knock on the trailer door. He got slowly to his feet and
answered the door. It was Constance. She had a fifth of unopened whiskey in
a bag.
"George, I left that son of a bitch, I couldn't stand that son of a
bitch anymore."
"Sit down."
George opened the fifth, got two glasses, filled each a third with
whiskey, two thirds with water. He sat down on the bed with Constance. She
took a cigarette out of her purse and lit it. She was drunk and her hands
"I took his damn money too. I took his damn money and split while he
was at work. You don't know how I've suffered with that son of a bitch." "
Lemme have a smoke," said George. She handed it to him and as she
leaned near, George put his arm around her, pulled her over and kissed her.
"You son of a bitch," she said, "I missed you."
"I miss those good legs of yours , Connie. I've really missed those
good legs."
"You still like 'em?"
"I get hot just looking."
"I could never make it with a college guy," said Connie. "They're too
soft, they're milktoast. And he kept his house clean. George , it was like
having a maid. He did it all. The place was spotless. You could eat beef
stew right off the crapper. He was antisceptic, that's what he was."
"Drink up, you'll feel better."
"And he couldn't make love."
"You mean he couldn't get it up?"
"Oh he got it up, he got it up all the time. But he didn't know how to
make a woman happy, you know. He didn't know what to do. All that money, all
that education, he was useless."
"I wish I had a college education."
"You don't need one. You have everything you need, George."
"I'm just a flunkey. All the shit jobs."
"I said you have everything you need, George. You know how to make a
woman happy."
"Yes. And you know what else? His mother came around! His mother! Two
or three times a week. And she'd sit there looking at me, pretending to like
me but all the time she was treating me like I was a whore. Like I was a big
bad whore stealing her son away from her! Her precious Wallace! Christ! What
a mess!" "He claimed he loved me. And I'd say, 'Look at my pussy, Walter!'
And he wouldn't look at my pussy. He said, 'I don't want to look at that
thing.' That thing! That's what he called it! You're not afraid of my pussy,
are you, George?"
"It's never bit me yet." "But you've bit it, you've nibbled it, haven't
you George?"
"I suppose I have."
"And you've licked it , sucked it?"
"I suppose so."
"You know damn well, George, what you've done."
"How much money did you get?"
"Six hundred dollars."
"I don't like people who rob other people, Connie."
"That's why you're a fucking dishwasher. You're honest. But he's such
an ass, George. And he can afford the money, and I've earned it... him and
his mother and his love, his mother-love, his clean l;ittle wash bowls and
toilets and disposal bags and breath chasers and after shave lotions and his
little hard-ons and his precious love-making. All for himself, you
understand, all for himself! You know what a woman wants, George."
"Thanks for the whiskey, Connie. Lemme have another cigarette."
George filled them up again. "I missed your legs, Connie. I've really
missed those legs. I like the way you wear those high heels. They drive me
crazy. These modern women don't know what they're missing. The high heel
shapes the calf, the thigh, the ass; it puts rythm into the walk. It really
turns me on!"
"You talk like a poet, George. Sometimes you talk like that. You are
one hell of a dishwasher."
"You know what I'd really like to do?"
"I'd like to whip you with my belt on the legs, the ass, the thighs.
I'd like to make you quiver and cry and then when you're quivering and
crying I'd slam it into you pure love."
"I don't want that, George. You've never talked like that to me before.
You've always done right with me."
"Pull your dress up higher."
"Pull your dress up higher, I want to see more of your legs."
"You like my legs, don't you, George?"
"Let the light shine on them!"
Constance hiked her dress.
"God christ shit," said George.
"You like my legs?"
"I love your legs!" Then george reached across the bed and slapped
Constance hard across the face. Her cigarette flipped out of her mouth.
"what'd you do that for?"
"You fucked Walter! You fucked Walter!"
"So what the hell?"
"So pull your dress up higher!"
"Do what I say!" George slapped again, harder. Constance hiked her
"Just up to the panties!" shouted George. "I don't quite want to see
the panties!"
"Christ, george, what's gone wrong with you?"
"You fucked Walter!"
"George, I swear, you've gone crazy. I want to leave. Let me out of
here, George!"
"Don't move or I'll kill you!"
"You'd kill me?"
"I swear it!" George got up and poured himself a shot of straight
whiskey, drank it, and sat down next to Constance. He took the cigarette and
held it against her wrist. She screamed. HE held it there, firmly, then
pulled it away.
"I'm a man , baby, understand that?"
"I know you're a man , George."
"Here, look at my muscles!" george sat up and flexed both of his arms.
"Beautiful, eh ,baby? Look at that muscle! Feel it! Feel it!"
Constance felt one of the arms, then the other.
"Yes, you have a beautiful body, George."
"I'm a man. I'm a dishwasher but I'm a man, a real man."
"I know it, George." "I'm not the milkshit you left."
"I know it."
"And I can sing, too. You ought to hear my voice."
Constance sat there. George began to sing. He sang "Old man River."
Then he sang "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen." He sang "The St. Louis
Blues." He sasng "God Bless America," stopping several times and laughing.
Then he sat down next to Constance. He said, "Connie, you have beautiful
legs." He asked for another cigarette. He smoked it, drank two more drinks,
then put his head down on Connie's legs, against the stockings, in her lap,
and he said, "Connie, I guess I'm no good, I guess I'm crazy, I'm sorry I
hit you, I'm sorry I burned you with that cigarette."
Constance sat there. She ran her fingers through George's hair,
stroking him, soothing him. Soon he was asleep. She waited a while longer.
Then she lifted his head and placed it on the pillow, lifted his legs and
straightened them out on the bed. She stood up, walked to the fifth, poured
a jolt of good whiskey in to her glass, added a touch of water and drank it
sown. She walked to the trailer door, pulled it open, stepped out, closed
it. She walked through the backyard, opened the fence gate, walked up the
alley under the one o'clock moon. The sky was clear of clouds. The same
skyful of clouds was up there. She got out on the boulevard and walked east
and reached the entrance of The Blue Mirror. She walked in, and there was
Walter sitting alone and drunk at the end of the bar. She walked up and sat
down next to him. "Missed me, baby?" she asked. Walter looked up. He
recognized her. He didn't answer. He looked at the bartender and the
bartender walked toward them They all knew eachother.


I am not sure where the place was. Somewhere north-east of California.
Hemingway had just finished a novel, come in from Europe or somewhere, and
he was in the ring fighting somebody. There were newspapermen, critics,
writers -- that tribe -- and also some young ladies sitting in the ringside
seats. I sat down in the last row. Most of the people weren't watching Hem.
They were talking to each other and laughing.
The sun was up. It was some time in the early afternoon. I was watching
Ernie. He had his man, was playing with him. He jabbed and crossed at will.
Then he put the other fellow down. The people looked then. Hem's opponent
was up at 8. Hem moved towards him, then stopped. Ernie pulled out his
mouthpiece, laughed, waved his opponent off. It was too easy a kill. Ernie
walked to his corner. He put his head back and somebody squeezed some water
in his mouth.
I got up from my seat and walked slowly down the aisle between the
seats. I reached up and rapped Hemingway on the side.
"Mr. Hemingway?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"I'd like to put on the gloves with you."
"Do you have any boxing experience?"
"Go get some."
"I'm here to kick your ass."
Ernie laughed. He said to the guy in the comer, "Get the kid into some
trunks and gloves."
The guy jumped out of the ring and I followed him back up the aisle to
the locker room.
"You crazy, kid?" he asked me.
"I don't know. I don't think so."
"Here. Try on these trunks."
"Oh, oh ... they're too large."
"Fuck it. They're all right."
"O.k., let me tape your hands."
"No tape."
"No tape?"
"No tape."
"How about a mouthpiece?"
"No mouthpiece."
"You gonna fight in them shoes?"
"I'm gonna fight in them shoes."
I lit a cigar and followed him out. I walked down the aisle smoking a
cigar. Hemingway climbed back into the ring and they put on his gloves.
There was nobody in my corner. Finally somebody came over and put some
gloves on me. We were called into the center of the ring for instructions.
"Now when you clinch," said the referee, "I'll. ..
"I don't clinch," I told the referee.
Other instructions followed.
"O.k., go back to your corners. And at the bell, come out fighting. May
the better man win. And," he said to me, "you better take that cigar out of
your mouth."
When the bell rang I came out with the cigar still in my mouth. Sucking
in a mouthful of smoke, I blew it into Ernest Hemingway's face. The crowd
Hem moved in, jabbed and hooked, and missed both punches. I was fast on
my feet. I danced a little jig, moved in, tap tap tap tap tap, five swift
left jabs to Papa's nose. I glanced down at a girl in the front row, a very
pretty thing, and just then Hem landed a right, smashing that cigar in my
mouth. I felt it burn my mouth and cheek, and I brushed the hot ash off. I
spit out the cigar stub and hooked one to Ernie's belly. He uppercut with a
right and caught me on the ear with a left. He ducked under my right and
caught me with a volley up against the ropes. Just at the bell he dropped me
with a solid right to the chin. I got up and walked back to my corner.
A guy came over with a bucket.
"Mr. Hemingway wants to know if you'd care for another round?" the guy
asked me.
"You tell Mr. Hemingway that he was lucky. Smoke got in my eyes. One
more round is all I need to do the job."
The guy with the bucket went over and I could see Hemingway laughing.
The bell rang and I came right out. I began landing, not too hard but
with good combinations. Ernie retreated, missing his punches. For the first
time I saw doubt in his eyes.
Who is this kid?, he was thinking. I shortened my punches, hit him
harder. I landed with every blow. Head and body. A mixed variety. I boxed
like Sugar Ray and hit like Dempsey.
I had Hemingway up against the ropes. He couldn't fall. Each time he
started to fall forward I straightened him with another punch. It was
murder. Death in the Afternoon.
I stepped back and Mr. Ernest Hemingway fell forward, out cold.
I unlaced my gloves with my teeth, pulled them off, and leaped from the
ring. I walked to my dressing room, I mean Hemingway's dressing room, and
took a shower. I drank a bottle of beer, lit a cigar, and sat on the edge of
the rubbing table. They carried Ernie in and put him on another table. He
was still out. I sat there naked, watching them worry over Ernie. There were
women in the room but I didn't pay any attention. Then a guy came over.
"Who are you?" he asked. "What's your name?"
"Henry Chinaski."
"Haven't heard of you," he said.
"You will," I said.
All the people came over. Ernie was left alone. Poor Ernie. Everybody
crowded around me. The women too. I was pretty starved-down, except for one
place. A real class broad was really looking me up and down. She looked like
a society broad, rich, educated, and everything -- nice body, nice face,
nice clothes, all that.
"What do you do?" somebody asked me.
"Fuck and drink."
"No, no, I mean what's your occupation?"
"Do you have a hobby?"
"Well, I don't know if you could call it a hobby. I write."

"You write?"
"Short stories. They're pretty good."
"Have you been published?"
"I haven't submitted."
"Where are your stories?"
"Over there," I pointed to a torn paper suitcase.
"Listen, I'm a critic for The New York Times. Do you mind if I
take your stories home and read them? I'll return them."
"It's o.k. with me, punk, only I don't know where I'll be."
The class society broad stepped forward. "He'll be with me."
Then she said, "Come on, Henry, get into your togs. It's a long drive
in and we have things to -- talk about."
I got dressed and then Ernie regained consciousness.
"What the hell happened?" he asked.
"You met a pretty good man, Mr. Hemingway," somebody told him.
I finished dressing and went over to his table.
"You're a good man. Papa. Nobody wins them all." I shook his hand.
"Don't blow your brains out."
I left with the society broad and we got into an open-topped yellow car
half a block long. She drove with the throttle to the floor and took the
curves sliding and screeching and without expression. That was class. If she
loved like she drove it was going to be a hell of a night.
The place was up in the hills, off by itself. A butler opened the door.
"George," she told him, "take the night oft. On second thought, take
the week off."
We walked in and there was a big guy sitting in a chair with a drink in
his hand.
Tommy," she said, "get lost."
We moved on through the house.
"Who was the big guy?" I asked her.
"Thomas Wolfe," she said, "a bore."
She stopped in the kitchen for a fifth of bourbon and two glasses. Then
she said, "Come on."
I followed her into the bedroom.
The next morning the phone awakened us. It was for me. She handed me
the phone and I sat up in bed next to her.
"Mr. Chinaski?"
"I read your stories. I was so excited that I couldn't sleep all night.
You're surely the greatest genius of the decade!"
"Only of the decade?"
"Well, perhaps of the century."
That's better."
The editors of Harper's and Atlantic are here with me
now. You may not believe this but each of them has accepted five stories for
future publication."
"I believe it," I said.
The critic hung up. I lay down. The society broad and I made love one
more time.


Big Bart was the meanest man in the West. He had the fastest gun in the
West and he'd fucked a larger variety of women in the West than anybody
else. He wasn't fond of bathing or bullshit or coming out second best. He
was also boss of a wagon train going West, and there wasn't a man his age
who had killed more Indians or fucked more women or killed more white men.
Big Bart was great and he knew it and everybody knew it. Even his farts
were exceptional, louder than the dinner gong, and he was well-hung. Big
Bart's gig was to get the wagons through safely, score on the ladies, kill a
few men and then head back for another wagon load. He had a black beard, a
dirty bunghole, and radiant yellow teeth.
He had just hammered hell out of Billy Joe's young wife while he made
Billy Joe watch. He made Billy Joe's wife talk to Billy Joe while he was at
it. He made her say, "Ah, Billy Joe, all this turkeyneck stuck into me from
snatch to throat, I can hardly breathe! Billy Joe, save me! No, Billy Joe,
don't save me!"
After Big Bart climaxed he made Billy Joe wash his parts and then they
all went out to a big dinner of hamhocks and limas with biscuits.
The next day they came across this lone wagon running all by itself
through the prairie. Some skinny kid of about sixteen with a bad case of
acne was at the reins. Big Bart rode over.
"Say, kid," he said.
The kid didn't answer.
"I'm talkin' to ya, kid . . ."
"Kiss my ass," said the kid.
"I'm Big Bart," said Big Bart.
"Kiss my ass, Big Bart," said the kid.
"What's your name, son?"
"They call me 'The Kid.' "
"Look, Kid, there's no way a man can make it through this here Indian
territory with a lone wagon."
"I intend to," said the Kid.
"O.k., it's your balls. Kid," said Big Bart, and he made to ride off
when the flaps of the wagon opened and out came this little filly with 40-
inch breasts and a fine big ass and eyes like the sky after a good rain. She
put her eyes upon Big Bart and his turkeyneck quivered against the saddle
"For your own good. Kid, you're a comin' with us."
"Fuck on", old man," said The Kid, "I don't take no mother-fuckin'
advice from an old man in dirty underwear."
"I've killed men for blinkin their eyes," said Big Bart.
The Kid just spit on the ground. Then reached up and scratched his
"Old man, you bore me. Now lose yourself from my sight or I'll assist
you in resembling a hunk of swiss cheese."
"Kid," said the girl, leaning over him, one of her breasts flopping out
and giving the sunlight a hard-on, "Kid, I think the man's right. We got no
chance against those motherfucking Indians alone. Now don't be an asshole.
Tell the man we'll join up."
"We'll join up," said The Kid.
"What's your girl's name?" asked Big Bart.
"Honeydew," said The Kid.
"And stop staring at my tits, mister," said Honeydew, "or I'll belt the
shit out of you."
Things went well for a while. There was a skirmish with the Indians at
Blueball Canyon. 37 Indians killed, one captured. No American casualties.
Big Bart bungholed the captured Indian and then hired him on as cook. There
was another skirmish at Clap Canyon, 37 Indians killed, one captured. No
American casualties. Big Bart bungholed . . .
It was obvious that Big Bart had hotrocks for Honeydew. He couldn't
keep his eyes off her. That ass, mostly it was that ass. He fell off his
horse watching one time and one of the two Indian cooks laughed. That left
only one Indian cook.
One day Big Bart sent The Kid out with a hunting party to score on some
buffalo. Big Bart waited until they rode off and then he made for The Kid's
wagon. He leaped up onto the seat and pushed the flaps back and walked in.
Honeydew was crouched in the center of the wagon masturbating.
"Jesus, baby," said Big Bart, "don't waste it!"
"Get the hell out of here," said Honeydew, withdrawing her finger and
pointing it at Big Bart, "get the hell out of here and let me do my thing!"
"Your man ain't takin' care of you, Honeydew!"
"He's takin' care of me, asshole, it's just that I don't get enough.
It's just that after my period I get hot."
"Listen, baby . . ."
"Fuck off!"
"Listen, baby, lookee . . ."
And he pulled out the jackhammer. It was purple and flipped back and
forth like the weight in a grandfather's clock. Driblets of spittle fell to
the floor.
Honeydew couldn't keep her eyes off that instrument. At last she said,
"You're not going to stick that god damned thing into me!"
"Say it like you mean it, Honydew."
"But why? Why? Look at it!"
"I am looking at it!"
"But why don't you want it?"
"Because I'm in love with The Kid."
"Love?" said Big Bart laughing. "Love? That's a fairytale for idiots!
Look at this god damned scythe! That can beat love anytime!"
"I love The Kid, Big Bart."
"And there's my tongue," said Big Bart, "the best tongue in the West!"
He stuck it out and made it do gymnastics.
"I love The Kid," said Honeydew.
"Well, fuck you," said Big Bart, and he ran forward and threw himself
upon Honeydew. It was dog's work getting that thing in and when he did,
Honeydew screamed. He gave it about seven slices and then he felt himself
being roughly pulled off.
"We got your buffalo, motherfucker. Now if you'll pull up your pants
and step outside we'll settle the rest."
"I've got the fastest gun in the West," said Big Bart.
"I'll blow a hole in you so big your asshole will look like a pore in
your skin," said The Kid. "Come on, let's get it done. I'm hungry for
dinner. This hunting buffalo works up the appetite . . ."
The men sat around the campfire watching. There was a definite
vibration in the air. The women stayed in the wagons, praying, masturbating,
and drinking gin. Big Bart had 34 notches in his gun, and a bad memory. The
Kid didn't have any notches in his gun. But he had confidence such as the
others had seldom seen before. Big Bart seemed the more nervous of the two.
He took a sip of whiskey, draining half the flask, then walked up to The
"Look, Kid . . ."
"Yeah, motherfucka . . .?"
"I mean, why you lost your cool?"
"I'm gonna blow your balls off, old man!"
"What for?"
"You were messin' with my woman, old man!"
"Listen Kid, don't you see? The female plays one man against the other.
We're just falling for her game."
"I don't want to hear your shit, dad! Now back off and draw! You've had
"Kid . . ."
"Back off and draw!"
The men at the campfire stiffened. A slight wind blew from the West
smelling of horseshit. Somebody coughed. The women crouched in the wagons,
drinking gin, praying, and masturbating. Twilight was moving in.
Big Bart and The Kid were 30 paces apart.
"Draw, you chickenshit," said The Kid, "draw, you chickenshit woman
Quietly through the flaps of a wagon a woman appeared with a rifle. It
was Honeydew. She put the rifle to her shoulder and squinted down the
"Come on, you tinhorn rapist," said The Kid, "DRAW!"
Big Bart's hand flicked toward his holster. A shot rang through the
twilight. Honeydew lowered her smoking rifle and went back into the covered
wagon. The Kid was dead on the ground, a hole in his forehead. Big Bart put
his unused gun back in his holster and strode toward the wagon. The moon was


The desert baked under the summer sun. Red jumped off the freight as it
slowed just outside the railroad yard. He took a shit behind some tall rocks
to the north, wiped his ass with some leaves. Then he walked fifty yards,
sat behind another rock out of the sun and rolled a cigarette. He saw the
hippies walking toward him. Two guys and a girl. They had jumped off the
train in the yard and were walking back.
One of the guys carried a Viet Cong flag. The guys looked soft and
harmless. The girl had a nice wide ass -- it almost split her bluejeans. She
was blond and had a bad case of acne. Red waited until they almost reached
"Heil Hitler!" he said.
The hippies laughed.
"Where you going?" Red asked.
"We're trying to get to Denver. I guess we'll make it."
"Well," said Red, "you're going to have to wait a while. I'm going to
have to use your girl."
"What do you mean?"
"You heard me."
Red grabbed the girl. With one hand grabbing her hair and the other her
ass, he kissed her. The taller of the guys reached for Red's shoulder. "Now
wait a minute . . ."
Red turned and put the guy on the ground with a short left. A stomach
punch. They guy stayed down, breathing heavily. Red looked at the guy with
the Viet Cong flag. "If you don't want to get hurt, leave me alone."
"Come on," he said to the girl, "get over behind those rocks."
"No, I won't do it," said the girl, "I won't do it."

Red pulled his switchblade and hit the button. The blade was flat
across her nose, pressed it down.
"How do you think you'd look without a nose?"
She didn't answer.
"I'll slice it off." He grinned.
"Listen," said the guy with the flag, "you can't get away with this."
"Come on, girly," said Red, pushing her toward the rocks.
Red and the girl disappeared behind the rocks. The guy with the flag
helped his friend up. They stood there. They stood there some minutes.
"He's fucking Sally. What can we do? He's fucking her right now."
"What can we do? He's a madman."
"We should do something."
"Sally must think we're real shits."
"We are. There are two of us. We could have handled him."
"He has a knife."
"It doesn't matter. We could have taken him."
"I feel god damned miserable."
"How do you think Sally feels? He's fucking her."
They stood and waited. The tall one who had taken the punch was called
Leo. The other was Dale. It was hot in the sun as they waited. "We've got
two cigarettes left," said Dale, "should we smoke?"
"How the hell can we smoke when that's going on behind the rocks?"
"You're right. My god, what's taking so long."
"God, I don't know. You think he's killed her?"
"I'm getting worried."
"Maybe I'd better have a look."
"O.k. but be careful."
Leo walked toward the rocks. There was a small hill with some brush. He
crawled up the hill behind the brush and looked down. Red was fucking Sally.
Leo watched. It seemed endless. Red went on and on. Leo crawled down the
hill and walked over and stood next to Dale.
"I guess she's all right," he said.
They waited.
Finally Red and Sally came out from behind the rocks. They walked
toward them.
"Thank you brothers," said Red, "she was a very fine piece."
"May you rot in hell!" said Leo.
Red laughed. "Peace! Peace! ... He flashed the sign with his fingers.
"Well, I think I'll be going . . ."
Red rolled a quick cigarette, smiling as he wet it. Then he lit up,
inhaled, and walked off toward the north, keeping in the shade.
"Let's hitchhike the rest of the way," said Dale. "Freights aren't any
"The highway's to the west," said Leo, "let's go."
They began moving toward the west.
"Christ,' said Sally, "I can hardly walk! He's an animal!"
Leo and Dale didn't say anything.
"I hope I don't get pregnant," said Sally.
"Sally," said Leo, "I'm sorry . . ."
"Oh, shut up!"
They walked. It was getting along toward evening and the desert heat
was dropping off.
"I hate men!" said Sally.
A jackrabbit leaped out from behind a bush and Leo and Dale jumped as
it ran off.
"A rabbit," said Leo, "a rabbit."
"That rabbit scared you guys, didn't it?"
"Well, after what happened, we're jumpy."
"You're jumpy? What about me? Listen let's sit down a minute.
I'm tired."
There was a patch of shade and Sally sat between them.
"You know, though ..." she said.
"It wasn't so bad. On a strictly sexual basis, I mean. He really put it
to me. On a strictly sexual basis it was quite something."
"What?" said Dale.
"I mean, morally, I hate him. The son of a bitch should be shot. He's a
dog. A pig. But on a strictly sexual basis it was something . . ."
They sat there a while not saying anything. Then they got out the two
cigarettes and smoked them, passing them around.
"I wish we had some dope," said Leo.
"God, I knew it was coming, said Sally. "You guys almost don't exist."
"Maybe you'd feel better if we raped you?" asked Leo. "Don't be stupid."
"You think I can't rape you?" "I should have gone with him. You guys are
nothing." "So now you like him?" asked Dale. "Forget it!" said Sally. "Let's
get down to the highway and stick our thumbs out."
"I can slam it to you," said Leo, "I can make you cry."
"Can I watch?" asked Dale, laughing.
"There won't be anything to watch," said Sally. "Come on. Let's go."
They stood up and walked toward the highway. It was a ten minute walk.
When they got there Sally stood in the highway with her thumb out. Leo and
Dale stood back out of view. They had forgotten the Viet Cong flag. They had
left it back at the freight yard. It was in the dirt near the railroad
tracks. The war went on. Seven red ants, the big kind, crawled across the

Margie was going to go out with this guy but on the way over this guy
met another guy in a leather coat and the guy in the leather coat opened the
leather coat and showed the other guy his tits and the other guy went over
to Margie's and said he couldn't keep his date because this guy in the
leather coat had showed him his tits and he was going to fuck this guy. So
Margie went to see Carl. Carl was in, and she sat down and said to Carl,
"This guy was going to take me to a cafe with tables outside and we were
going to drink wine and talk, just drink wine and talk, that's all, nothing
else, but on the way over this guy met another guy in a leather coat and the
guy in the leather coat showed the other guy his tits and now this guy is
going to fuck the guy in the leather coat, so I don't get my table and my
wine and my talk."
"I can't write," said Carl. "It's gone."
Then he got up and went to the bathroom, closed the door, and took a
shit. Carl took four or five shits a day. There was nothing else to do. He
took five or six baths a day. There was nothing else to do. He got drunk for
the same reason.
Margie heard the toilet flush. Then Carl came out.
"A man simply can't write eight hours a day. He can't even write every
day or every week. It's a wicked fix. There's nothing to do but wait."
Carl went to the refrigerator and came out with a six-pack of Michelob.
He opened a bottle.
"I'm the world's greatest writer," he said. "Do you know how difficult
that is?"
Margie didn't answer.
"I can feel pain crawling all over me. It's like a second skin. I wish
I could shed that skin like a snake."
"Well, why don't you get down on the rug and give it a try?"
"Listen," he asked, "where did I meet you?"
"Barney's Beanery."
"Well, that explains some of it. Have a beer."
Carl opened a bottle and passed it over.
"Yeah," said Margie, "I know. You need your solitude. You need to be
alone. Except when you want some, or except when we split, then you're on
the phone. You say you need me. You say you're dying of a hangover. You get
weak fast."
"I get weak fast."
"And you're so dull around me, you never turn on. You writers
are so ... precious ... you can't stand people. Humanity stinks,
"But every time we split you start throwing giant four-day parties. And
suddenly you get witty, you start to TALK! Suddenly you're full of
life, talking, dancing, singing. You dance on the coffeetable, you throw
bottles through the window, you act parts from Shakespeare. Suddenly you're
alive -- when I'm gone. Oh, I hear about it!"
"I don't like parties. I especially dislike people at parties."
"For a guy who doesn't like parties you certainly throw enough of
"Listen, Margie, you don't understand. I can't write anymore. I'm
finished. Somewhere I made a wrong turn. Somewhere I died in the night."
"The only way you're going to die is from one of your giant hangovers."
"Jeffers said that even the strongest men get trapped."
"Who was Jeffers?"
"He was the guy who turned Big Sur into a tourist trap."
"What were you going to do tonight?"
"I was going to listen to the songs of Rachmaninoff."
"Who's that?"
"A dead Russian."
"Look at you. You just sit there."
"I'm waiting. Some guys wait for two years. Sometimes it never comes
"Suppose it never comes back?"
"I'll just put on my shoes and walk down to Main Street."
"Why don't you get a decent job?"
"There aren't any decent jobs. If a writer doesn't make it through
creation, he's dead."
"Oh, come on, Carl! There are billions of people in the world who don't
make it through creation. Do you mean to tell me they're dead?"
"And you have soul? You are one of the few with a soul?"
"It would appear so."
"It would appear so! You and your little typewriter! You and
your tiny checks! My grandmother makes more money than you do!"
Carl opened another bottle of beer.
"Beer! Beer! You and your god damned beer! It's in your stories too.
'Marty lifted his beer. As he looked up, this big blonde walked into the bar
and sat down beside him . . .' You're right. You're finished. Your material
is limited, very limited. You can't write a love story, you can't write a
decent love story."
"You're right, Margie."
"If a man can't write a love story, he's useless."
"How many have you written?"
"I don't claim to be a writer."
"But," said Carl, "you appear to pose as one hell of a literary
Margie left soon after that. Carl sat and drank the remaining beers. It
was true, the writing had left him. It would make his few underground
enemies happy. They could step one notch up. Death pleased them, underground
or overground. He remembered Endicott, Endicott sitting there saying, "Well,
Hemingway's gone, DOS Passes is gone, Patchen is gone. Pound is gone,
Berryman jumped off the bridge . . . things are looking better and better
and better."
The phone rang. Carl picked it up. "Mr. Gantling?"
"Yes?" he answered.
"We wondered if you'd like to read at Fairmount College?"
"Well, yes, what date?"
"The 30th of next month."
"I don't think I'm doing anything then."
"Our usual payment is one hundred dollars."
"I usually get a hundred and a half. Ginsberg gets a thousand."
"But that's Ginsberg. We can only offer a hundred."
"All right."
"Fine, Mr. Gantling. We'll send you the details."
"How about travel? That's a hell of a drive."
"O.k., twenty-five dollars for travel."
"Would you like to talk to some of the students in their classes?"
"There's a free lunch."
"I'll take that."
"Fine, Mr. Gantling, we'll be looking forward to seeing you on campus."
Carl walked about the room. He looked at the typewriter. He put a sheet
of paper in there, then watched a girl in an amazingly short mini skirt walk
past the window. Then he started to type:
"Margie was going to go out with this guy but on the way over this guy
met another guy in a leather coat and the guy in the leather coat opened the
leather coat and showed the other guy his tits and the other guy went over
to Margie's and said he couldn't keep his date because this guy in the
leather coat had showed him his tits . . ."
Carl lifted his beer. It felt good to be writing again.


We got to go to the exercise yard twice a day, in the middle of the
morning and in mid-afternoon. There wasn't much to do. The men were friends
mostly on the basis of what had gotten them into jail. Like my cell-mate
Taylor had said, the child molestors and indecent exposure cases were at the
bottom of the social order while the big-time swindlers and the racket heads
were at the top.
Taylor wouldn't speak to me in the exercise yard. He paced up and down
with a big-time swindler. I sat alone. Some of the guys rolled a shirt into
a ball and played catch. They appeared to enjoy it. The facilities for the
entertainment of the inmates didn't amount to much.
I sat there. Soon I noticed a huddle of men. It was a crap game. I got
up and went over. I had a little less than a dollar in change. I watched a
few rolls. The man with the dice picked up three pots in a row. I sensed
that his run was finished and got in against him. He crapped out. I made a
Each time a man got hot I laid off until I figured his string was
ended. Then I got in against him. I noticed that the other men bet every
pot. I made six bets and won five of them. Then we were marched back up to
our cells. I was a dollar ahead.
The next morning I got in earlier. I made $2.50 in the morning and
$1.75 in the afternoon. As the game ended this kid walked up to me. "You
seem to be going all right, mister."
I gave the kid 15 cents. He walked off ahead. Another guy got in step
with me. "You give that son of a bitch anything?"
"Yeah. 15 cents."
"He cuts the pot each time. Don't give him nothing."
"I hadn't noticed."
"Yeah. He cuts the pot. He takes his cut each roll." "I'll watch him
"Besides, he's a fucking indecent exposure case. He shows his pecker to
little girls."
"Yeah," I said, "I hate those cocksuckers."
The food was very bad. After dinner one night I mentioned to Taylor
that I was winning at craps.
"You know," he said, "you can buy food here, good food."
"The cook comes down after lights out. You get the warden's food, the
best. Dessert, the works. The cook's good. The warden's got him here on
account of that."
"How much would a couple of dinners cost us?"
"Give him a dime. No more than 15 cents."
"Is that all?"
"If you give him more he'll think you're a fool."
"All right. 15 cents."
Taylor made the arrangements. The next night after lights out we waited
and killed bedbugs, one by one.
"That cook's killed two men. He's a great big son of a bitch, and mean.
He killed one guy, did ten years, got out of there and was out two or three
days and he killed another guy. This is only a holding prison but the warden
keeps him here permanent because he's such a good cook."
We heard somebody walking up. It was the cook. I got up and he passed
the food in. I walked to the table then walked back to the cell door. He was
a big son of a bitch, killer of two men. I gave him 15 cents.
"Thanks, buddy, you want me to come back tomorrow night?"
"Every night."
Taylor and I sat down to the food. Everything was on plates. The coffee
was good and hot, the meat -- the roast beef -- was tender. Mashed potatoes,
sweet peas, biscuits, gravy, butter, and apple pie. I hadn't eaten that good
in five years.
"That cook raped a sailor the other day. He got him so bad the sailor
couldn't walk. They had to hospitalize that sailor."
I took in a big mouthful of mashed potatoes and gravy.
"You don't have to worry," said Taylor. "You're so damned ugly, nobody
would want to rape you."
"I was worrying more about getting myself a little."
"Well, I'll point out the punks to you. Some of them are owned and some
of them aren't owned."
"This is good food."
"Sure as shit. Now there are two kinds of punks in here. The kind that
come in punks and the prison-made punks. There are never enough punks to go
around so the boys have to make a few extra to fulfill their needs."
"That's sensible."
"The prison-manufactured punks are usually a little punchy from the
head-beatings they take. They resist at first."
"Yeah. Then they decide it's better to be a live punk than a dead
We finished our dinner, went to our bunks, fought the bedbugs and
attempted to sleep.
I continued to win at craps each day. I bet more heavily and still won.
Life in prison was getting better and better. One day I was told not to go
to the exercise yard. Two agents from the F.B.I, came to visit me. They
asked a few questions, then one of them said:
"We've investigated you. You don't have to go to court. You'll be taken
to the induction center. If the army accepts you, you'll go in. If they
reject you, you're a civilian again."
"I almost like it here in jail," I said.
"Yes, you're looking good."
"No tension," I said, "no rent, no utility bills, no arguments with
girlfriends, no taxes, no license plates, no food bills, no hangovers . . ."
"Keep talking smart, we'll fix you good."
"Oh shit," I said, "I'm just joking. Pretend I'm Bob Hope."
"Bob Hope's a good American."
"I'd be too if I had his dough."
"Keep mouthing. We can make it rough on you."
I didn't answer. One guy had a briefcase. He got up first. The other
guy followed him out.
They gave us all a bag lunch and put us in a truck. There were twenty
or twenty-five of us. The guys had just had breakfast an hour and a half
earlier but they were all into their bag lunches. Not bad: a bologna
sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich and a rotten banana. I passed my lunch
down to the guys. They were very quiet. None of them joked. They looked
straight ahead. Most of them were black or brown. And all of them were big.
I passed the physical, then I went in to see the psychiatrist.
"Henry Chinaski?"
"Sit down."
I sat down.
"Do you believe in the war?"
"Are you willing to go to war?"
He looked at me. I stared down at my feet. He seemed to be reading a
sheaf of papers in front of him. It took several minutes. Four, five, six,
seven minutes. Then he spoke.
"Listen, I am having a party next Wednesday night at my place. There
are going to be doctors, lawyers, artists, writers, actors, all that sort. I
can see that you're an intelligent man. I want you to come to my party. Will
you come?"
He started writing. He wrote and he wrote and he wrote. I wondered how
he knew so much about me. I didn't know that much about myself.
I let him write on. I was indifferent. Now that I couldn't be in the
war I almost wanted the war. Yet, at the same time, I was glad to be out of
it. The Doctor finished writing. I felt I had fooled them. My objection to
war was not that I had to kill somebody or be killed senselessly, that
hardly mattered. What I objected to was to be denied the right to sit in a
small room and starve and drink cheap wine and go crazy in my own way and at
my own leisure.
I didn't want to be awakened by some man with a bugle. I didn't want to
sleep in a barracks with a bunch of healthy sex-mad football-loving overfed
wise-cracking masturbating lovable frightened pink farting mother-struck
modest basketball-playing American boys that I would have to be friendly
with, that I would have to get drunk with on leave, that I would have to lay
on my back with and listen to dozens of unfunny, obvious, dirty jokes. I
didn't want their itchy blankets or their itchy uniforms or their itchy
humanity. I didn't want to shit in the same place or piss in the same place
or share the same whore. I didn't want to see their toenails or read their
letters from home. I didn't want to watch their assholes bobbing in front of
me in close formation, I didn't want to make friends, I didn't want to make
enemies, I just didn't want them or it or the thing. To kill or be killed
hardly mattered.
After a two-hour wait on a hard bench in a cesspool-brown tunnel with a
cold wind blowing they let me go and I walked out, north. I stopped for a
pack of cigarettes. I stopped in at the first bar, sat down, ordered a
scotch and water, peeled the cellophane from the package, took out a smoke,
lit up, got that drink in my hand, drank down half, dragged at the smoke,
looked at my handsome face in the mirror. It seemed strange to be out. It
seemed strange to be able to walk in any direction I pleased.
Just for fun I got up and walked to the crapper. I pissed. It was
another horrible bar crapper; I almost vomited at the stench. I came out,
put a coin in the juke box, sat down and listened to the latest. The latest
wasn't any better. They had the beat but not the soul. Mozart, Bach and the
Bee still made them look bad. I was going to miss those crap games and the
good food. I ordered another drink. I looked around the bar. There were five